Category Archives: History

Jane Austen’s Wardrobe – Hilary Davidson

Jane Austen’s Wardrobe – Hilary Davidson

This book is a beautiful object. The pages are thick, there are illustrations and photographs.

A few of the images

Dr Davidson went through Austen’s letters and then found examples of similar clothing and accessories (or in the case of the Brown Silk Pelisse – the real thing).

The book explores Austen’s garments and adornments by grouping together items in the way Regency clothing would have been stored, as a virtual wardrobe.

Introduction, page 9

Not only is there information on Austen’s clothes, but there is information on customs of the time, fabrics, laundry etc. It is truly fascinating.

A review

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Reading Jane Austen – Jenny Davidson

Reading Jane Austen – Jenny Davidson

I am not sure how I first became aware of this book, but when I was looking for a non-fiction book to read, I had this as a sample on my Kindle. It’s fabulous.

Here’s the blurb …

Whether you’re new to Austen’s work or know it backwards and forwards already, this book provides a clear, full and highly engaging account of how Austen’s fiction works and why it matters. Exploring new pathways into the study of Jane Austen’s writing, novelist and academic Jenny Davidson looks at Austen’s work through a writer’s lens, addressing formal questions about narration, novel writing, and fictional composition as well as themes including social and women’s history, morals and manners. Introducing new readers to the breadth and depth of Jane Austen’s writing, and offering new insights to those more familiar with Austen’s work, Jenny Davidson celebrates the art and skill of one of the most popular and influential writers in the history of English literature.

There are seven chapters and a very comprehensive Notes and Further Reading section. The Chapter titles are:

  • Letters
  • Conversation
  • Revision
  • Manners
  • Morals
  • Voice
  • Female Economies

In each chapter, Davidson refers to specific parts of all of the texts (and the letters). She has clearly read all of the novels extremely closely and her insights are interesting and thought-provoking. I need to go back and read the novels again.

For example, in the chapter on Morals, this passage is taken from Pride and Prejudice

Mrs. Bennet found, with amazement and horror, that her husband would not advance a guinea to buy clothes for his daughter. He protested that she should receive from him no mark of affection whatever, on the occasion. Mrs. Bennet could hardly comprehend it. That his anger could be carried to such a point of inconceivable resentment, as to refuse his daughter a privilege, without which her marriage would scarcely seem valid, exceeded all that she could believe possible. She was more alive to the disgrace, which the want of new clothes must reflect on her daughter’s nuptials, than to any sense of shame at her eloping and living with Wickham, a fortnight before they took place.

And then, Davidson writes this

Mrs. Bennet’s shallowness is mocked in this passage, but the novel reserves a more profound indictment for strict exertions of conventional moral judgment that aren’t tempered by the humility and humanity – the empathy, we might call it – that should properly accompany verdicts on other people’s wrongdoing. Austen herself, in her letters as in her fiction, would probably have phrased this point in more explicitly Christian terms, invoking forgiveness rather than sympathy or empathy and resolutely condemning the hypocrisy and mean-spiritedness of Christians unwilling to comprehend and forgive transgression.

If you’re interested in Austen, or reading critically or literature in the Georgian era, then this book is for you.

A review

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The Regency Revolution – Robert Morrison

The Regency Revolution – Robert Morrison

I have two paper copies and one Kindle copy, so clearly I was keen to read it. It did still take me a while to get to it. This is the story/history of regency England.

Here’s the blurb …

The Regency began on 5 February 1811 when the Prince of Wales replaced his violently insane father George III as the sovereign de facto. It ended on 29 January 1820, when George III died and the Prince Regent became King as George IV. At the centre of the era is of course the Regent himself, who was vilified by the masses for his selfishness and corpulence. Around him surged a society defined by brilliant characters, momentous events, and stark contrasts; a society forced to confront a whole range of pressing new issues that signalled a decisive break from the past and that for the first time brought our modern world clearly into view.

This book is divided into five chapters with a prologue and epilogue;

  • Prologue – The Regent and the Regency
  • Chapter 1 – Crime, Punishment and the Pursuit of Freedom
  • Chapter 2 – Theatres of Entertainment
  • Chapter 3 – Sexual Pastimes, Pleasures, and Perversities
  • Chapter 4 – Expanding Empire and Waging War
  • Chapter 5 – Changing Landscapes and Ominous Signs
  • Epilogue – The Modern World

It is a fascinating book, without any obfuscating academic jargon. And it has some lovely illustrations (both colour and black and white).

Some of the quotes about Austen

Austen knew that our biggest hopes sometimes rest on the smallest events, and that tragedy can be played out not just on the national stage or a foreign battlefield but also is a drawing room conversation or on a country walk.

His [Byron] reputation as a handsome ,brooding, anti-social elite stands clearly behind Austen’s portrait of Darcy in Pride and Prejudice

Austen was the great master of the technique that used social constraint to heighten rather than reduce sexual tension.

This book is great if you are interested in history, or Jane Austen, or Byron (not to mention Shelley and Mary Shelley).

Another review

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Jane Austen Embroidery – Jennie Batchelor and Alison Larkin

Jane Austen Embroidery – Jennie Batchelor and Alison Larkin

This is a lovely book with beautiful illustrations and photography.

It is split into three sections; Clothes, Accessories, and Items for the Home, as well as an introduction.

The introduction is an essay on embroidery in Jane Austen’s time and some family recollections.

Jane could not resist telling her sister Cassandra, ‘she was the neatest worker of the party’

The rest of the introduction contains information about the Lady’s Magazine (from which all of the original patterns in this book are taken.

Each section has its own introduction with more information about Jane Austen and the Lady’s Magazine. These are really fascinating and are worth reading even if you’re not a stitcher.

The instructions and diagrams look good, I haven’t attempted anything yet, but I did read them and think they were comprehensive and easy to follow.

Most of the projects aren’t really things that I would make, but I would like to attempt the ‘Harvest Housewife’ and the ‘Glittering Gold and Green Workbag’ (although I think I would embroider something different – perhaps the ‘Fireflower Apron’pattern).

The Housewife is on this version of the cover
Work Bag
Fireflower Apron

The projects are made with silk thread, but there is a DMC conversion at the end if you prefer to stitch with cotton. There is also a list of resources and further reading suggestions. I am quite keen to read

  • 18th Century Embroidery Techniques – Gail Marsh (I have ordered a copy)
  • Jane Austen and Leisure – David Selwyn

Some of the others in the list I already own and need to reread (Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England – Amanda Vickery, and The Subversive Stitch – Roszika Parker)

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Interesting JASNA Article

I am not sure where I first saw a mention of this article – Instagram perhaps?

Why was Jane Austen sent away to school so early?

Essentially the girls (Cassandra and Jane) were sent away to school to create space for paying students. But this article is full of information about the houses that could be Steventon (there are two possibilities), number of students at any time, number of servants (because some of them have to be housed too) and number of family members (remember two of the boys were also sent off to the naval academy).

I have read a lot of Austen biographies and I have never noticed the two different Steventon houses.

Both of the below images are from the article.

Version 1 – the smaller house
Version 2 – The Bigger House

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Jane Austen’s Country Life – Deirdre Le Faye

Jane Austen's Country Life -

Jane Austen’s Country Life -Deirdre Le Faye

This is a beautiful book – thick pages and stunning illustrations. It is worth owning for the illustrations.

Here is the blurb …

Jane Austen lived for nearly all her life in two Hampshire villages: for 25 years in her birthplace of Steventon, and then for the last 8 years of her life in Chawton, during which she wrote and published her great novels. While there are plenty of books describing her periods of urban life in Bath, Southampton and London, and the summer holidays in Lyme Regis and other West Country seaside resorts, no book has given consideration to the rural background of her life. Her father was not only the rector of Steventon but a farmer there as well, managing a property of some 200 acres. Her brother Edward, in addition, was a large landowner, holding the three estates of Godmersham in Kent, Steventon and Chawton in Hampshire. Agriculture, in all its aspects, was even more important to Jane than clerical life or the naval careers of her younger brothers. This book fills a gap in the Austen family background, discussing the state of agriculture in general in the south of England during the wartime, conditions which lasted for most of Jane Austen’s life, and considering in particular the villages and their inhabitants, the weather conditions, field crops, farm and domestic animals, and the Austens’ household economy and rural way of life. Apart from these obvious sources, there are other Austen family manuscripts, as yet unpublished, which provide particular and unique information. Richly illustrated with contemporary depictions of country folk, landscapes and animals, Jane Austen’s Country Life conjures up a world which has vanished more than the familiar regency townscapes of Bath or London, but which is no less important to an understanding of this most treasured writer’s life and work.

There are seven chapters – Hampshire (as I mentioned in a previous post, I needed a map to understand the relationships between the places), A Year in the Country Side, The Hardships and Pleasures of Rural Life, Crops, Livestock and Pleasure-Grounds, Urban Interlude and Life at Godmersham and Chawton. This isn’t an academic book it is really to help a modern audience understand and appreciate life in Austen’s time. For example, peas at Christmas is quite an extravagance! Not something that I had thought about, but it reveals information about the characters that a contemporary reader would appreciate.

It was a very easy read and makes me want to go back and read Austen’s novels again taking notice of the time of year, the weather and the food.

More reviews …

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Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England – Roy and Lesley Adkins

Eavesdropping on Jane Austen's England - Roy & Lesley Adkins

Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England – Roy & Lesley Adkins

I was browsing in The Lane Book Store and saw this book (they usually have a good selection of Jane Austen books). I had read about it, but wasn’t sure that I would like it. The Adkins are a husband and wife team who had previously written (amongst other things) Jack Tar Life in Nelson’s Navy. This book is along similar lines in fact I am sure some of the research for the former book was useful to the latter.

Here is the blurb …

Jane Austen, arguably the greatest novelist of the English language, wrote brilliantly about the gentry and aristocracy of two centuries ago in her accounts of young women looking for love. Jane Austen’s England explores the customs and culture of the real England of her everyday existence depicted in her classic novels as well as those by Byron, Keats, and Shelley. Drawing upon a rich array of contemporary sources, including many previously unpublished manuscripts, diaries, and personal letters, Roy and Lesley Adkins vividly portray the daily lives of ordinary people, discussing topics as diverse as birth, marriage,  religion, sexual practices, hygiene, highwaymen, and superstitions.
From chores like fetching water to healing with  medicinal leeches, from selling wives in the marketplace to buying smuggled gin, from the hardships faced by young boys and girls in the mines to the familiar sight of corpses swinging on gibbets, Jane Austen’s England offers an authoritative and gripping account that is sometimes humorous, often shocking, but always entertaining.

I think that I am quite knowledgeable about Jane Austen’s time, but that knowledge is centred on the gentry. I found this book fascinating. It was easy to read (none of that academic jargon) and each chapter covered a significant aspect of a person’s life: Wedding Bells, Breeding, Toddler to Teenager, Home and Hearth, etc.

I learnt about Bastardy Laws – apparently an unwed pregnant woman who was unable to maintain herself was bought before a magistrate and forced to name the father of her child. He then had to marry her (if he was unmarried) or support her financially or he was sent to gaol (can you imagine that marriage?) and  the Black Laws – it was a capital offence to enter a forest in disguise!

I learnt about the hard lives of chimney sweeps who often died of terrible cancers because soot is carcinogenic and they rarely had the opportunity to bathe not to mention getting stuck in a chimney and suffocating.

What this book really makes plain is how hard and depressing the lives of poor people were – work was physically hard and sometimes dangerous, food was costly and not very plentiful, housing was poor and sanitation almost non existent. Life would have been one long grind until you died (although if you were grateful enough in life you could hope for a reward in heaven).

I had to laugh at some of the medical ‘cures’ – one person had a sty and wiped the tail of his black cat across it! But, with the best of intentions, I suspect many patients doctors killed their patients. Blood poisoning (from Blood letting), infections (dirty hands and equipment) and strange drug concoctions.  Dentistry was awful – blacksmiths might remove your teeth! Painful teeth were generally just removed and the best type of dentures were real teeth – either from dead people (stolen by body snatchers) or from poor people willing to sell their teeth.

‘the new teeth should always be perfectly sound, and taken from a mouth which has the appearance of that of a person sound and healthy; not that I believe it possible to transplant an infection’. In order to avoid filing the tooth to the correct shape the ‘best remedy is to have several people ready, whose teeth in appearance are fit; for if the first will not answer, the second may’.

Life would have been miserable for the poor, but even the gentry would have found it uncomfortable; cold and smelly.

I think anyone interested in social history or Jane Austen’s time will find this book interesting.






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